First off, a spit in the face of the Interlude. When we first played it, the Interlude appeared to be a fair cut of storytelling, not particularly good but never bad, but we’ve since learnedthat it copies at least two sections of gameplay from The After Years: not just in revisiting dungeons but in re-fighting bosses as well. And to make things worse, those dungeons and bosses were already recounted from the original game. To make things even worse than that, the Interlude also fails to successfully bridge the two games! I understand the Complete Collection’s version of The After Years never mentioning the events of the Interlude (though that is hilarious at times) but the Interlude itself just doesn’t seem to have set up the plot the way it intended!
But let’s hold off on the complaints. To get started with TAY, let’s talk about the structure of the game itself. The After Years is broken into “Chapters”, each staring a given character. The first chapter is pre-set, followed by a huge glut of alternate chapters that you can play in any order. Each of those alternate chapters that we’ve beaten so far have unlocked yet another new one, though that’s bound to stop with time. We’re not clear on how many chapters there will be in all, and we’re trying to avoid spoiling it! Despite being given the option to branch off down the chapters, we’re going to be playing them in the order presented. This is also despite the chapters branching from release order, or so I learn as I’m writing this. Next: keep in mind that this game loves to cut away to other storylines, which it does so very often but without any apparent reason to do so, that I likely won’t recap these cutaways unless they’re particularly noteworthy. After all, we’ll get to the real versions of those scenes soon enough!
On a Marathon note, this is the first game where our Secondary Objectives come into play: specifically the one where we have to have all party members at all times, so long as it does not conflict with the Secondary Objective to get the best ending, which it does not. So we had to keep a careful eye on that and have checked a writeup on the FF Wiki, learning that one such situation is in Rydia’s Chapter, one in Edge’s, and another in an unlabelled chapter that, frankly, sounds a lot like the finale.
Wind up those time travellin’ clocks, folks! We’re cutting ahead sixteen years – seventeen from FFIV itself!
(By the way, note that this “tale” covers both the WiiWare versions of Ceodore’s Tale and the Prologue, which were combined into one in the PSP release. I believe Ceodore’s Tale proper begins after we return from Cecil. Wherever the break, it explains why this chapter is so long compared to the others.)
Tune in once again on an airship in flight, this one carrying our newest protagonist! His name is Ceodore Harvey, son of Rosa and Cecil, Prince of Baron. He’s named after his uncle, Golbez, whose name was established as “Theodor” in the DS version of FFIV. Which means the PSP-exclusive Interlude made a big dramatic deal about his name, even though the drama comes from information not included in the PSP version of FFIV?
Ceodore is now 15 years old and about to undergo the final act of initiation that will make him a Knight and, so it’s been arranged, a member of the Red Wings. Escorting him to the site are Captain Biggs of the Red Wings and his right-hand man, Wedge: two recurring Final Fantasy characters (chronologically, they first appeared in FFVI) who are an ongoing Star Wars reference. They briefly appeared, facelessly, in the Interlude, despite the fact that they have portraits here that could have easily been brought over to the Interlude. Speaking of their portraits… they have no eyes. Just going to throw that out there. Actually, I’m not as big a fan of any of the Complete Edition’s After Years portraits if you compare them to the WiiWare’s character poitraits. Most of the Complete Edition portraits seem to be cropped from official character art, which I can’t fault, but I sort of like the style of the mobile/WiiWare portraits!
But back to the present and the people at hand. Prince Ceodore has blue hair, something that really, really made more sense back in the days when Cecil had steel blue hair, and not white as in the Complete Collection. (Arguably, Cecil might have blue hair under his Dark Knight helm, as the white hair is clearly there to underline his transformation to paladin, but do we ever see it?) As you can see in the attached screenshot of the PC version, the iOS version and all subsequent releases decided to go whole hog and make Ceodore blond as well. That’s twice now, twice the After Years has screwed something up that’s exclusive to the version you were creating at the same time, how are you doing this? Not being aware of the hair thing at the time, Kyle decided Ceodore having blue hair was because “he’s an alien!” Best explanation I can think of.
Talking to Biggs, we learn that he is no fan of Ceodore’s, and some additional information that our player character presumably already knew: Ceodore was going to the Adamant Cave near the town of Mythril (that’s the cave where we gave a man a tail and got a rock) where he was supposed to recover a Knight’s Emblem and so become a knight. We spent our cash-on-hand (most of it found in a jar while we were poking around Mythril) to get a better sword. This was important, as Dad and Mom had apparently sent us off wearing crap so underpowered that I’m not entirely sure it even showed up in the original FFIV. Investigation proves this true: they had to invent a whole new level of junk equipment to outfit Ceodore this poorly, as none of it appears in the original game!
Being a level 1 novice, it wasn’t surprising to find that Ceodore also had no class skills at the beginning of the game, although he had inherited Rosa’s skill for white magic. We learn that from the people in town, who just won’t shut up about Rosa. In between the NPCs’ constant references to how attractive Rosa is (which would be creepier if people didn’t do that with royalty in real life – and is still pretty creepy), there were a lot of references to Ceodore having his mother’s powers, as though the game couldn’t get tired of repeating the information. And they’re right: throughout the course of the chapter, Ceodore sprouted White Spells at almost every level-up, out of every pore. No one even mentions Cecil’s White Magic skills of course: apparently the entire world has realized that Cecil’s skill with White Magic is about as good as his skill with children. Speaking of Cecil’s skill with children, did I forget to mention that Ceodore seems to be trying to distance himself from his parents? It started out sounding as though he were just being tough and independent in front of the Red Wings, but after a while I got the impression that he had a bit of an open wound there.
While we were in the area, we learned some weird things were going on with the moon. Two things were blamed on our favourite rocky satellite. First off, as in the Interlude, the moon was blamed for the world map warping between games, which was apparently even worse in the original cell phone and WiiWare versions, if some screenshots I’m seeing are correct. But that’s just getting started, and isn’t nearly as extreme for most players playing the game today.
The moon was also less ham-handedly blamed for the game’s mechanics of Lunar Cycles. Here’s how it works, as it’s going to come up. Every time you rest at an inn or tent, or every (we believe) 30 minutes of play without rest, the moon’s cycle will advance. There are four phases, and each impacts the characters’ and monsters’ abilities and sometimes influences monster appearance rates. These are the conditions, as I’m likely to bring them up again: New Moon (Abilities up, White Magic down), Waxing Moon (White Magic up, Black Magic down), Full Moon (Black Magic up, Attacks down), Waning Moon (Attacks up, Abilities down). Biggs and Wedge insisted that we had to start this initiation of on the Full Moon, although nothing prevented us from resting in a tent during the mission and changing the phase, so it was not really that stringent. The Full Moon was probably selected for the first dungeon because enemy HP was low. This means that after a few levels, Ceodore could kill them in one hit despite his reduced attack, while the Full Moon would keep them from killing him in turn.
Heading into the cave, Biggs and Wedge stayed with Ceodore for a room to help teach us new commands in the game (we should have milked them for a while, come to think of it). The most important of these were the Band Attacks: when two or more characters have an interpersonal bond, they may gain combo attacks. The way you learn Bands in most early releases of the game, Complete Collection included, is strange and was completely ignored for the iOS port and beyond, as it almost doesn’t make a lick of sense. You have to select Band and then punch in commands for each character from the normal list of commands, praying you guessed the right ones, even though the characters might not have a Band at all? For example, you can have Ceodore cast White Magic and Rosa use Blessing (her upgraded version of Pray in this game) to use the Divine Heal Band. The sheer number of dead ends will have any player checking a walkthrough before long. To make things even more irritating, Ceodore went without band attacks for much of his chapter! Like I said, the iOS version tosses all this out and gives you the Bands basically for free.
So let’s talk about the dungeon. It was now a) on the same island as Mythril, thanks to “tectonic activity,” and b) much larger than before. We also learned that Cecil had done this same trial himself. Wait, so is it a Dark Knight trial? Because I’m not sure that that’s a good idea. Biggs and Wedge left, and we took Ceodore on without them. At the heart of the dungeon, we found the room that had made up the entirety of this location in the original game… which just confuses things, as this cave used to house a meteorite but is now three storeys underground. Whatever you say, The After Years.
We opened the box that we found in this room, at the end of the dungeon, and were attacked by the boss monster inside: a Sand Worm, which would later show up as a downright boring normal enemy in other parts of TAY. For now, it was… also downright boring, but somehow had access to the “drop you to 1HP” spell Whirlwind (aka Tornado). The worm hit Ceodore with the spell, triggering a cutscene where Biggs arrived with Wedge, and saw Ceodore refusing to give up. Ceodore redoubled his efforts, awaking his “Secret Power!” This was the special ability “Awaken,” apparently tied to his Lunarian ancestry despite neither Cecil nor Golbez showing any sign of it. In short, it gives Ceodore a radical boost in stats for its duration (Ed. arguably reminiscent of Terra’s Trance ability from FFVI). The downside to this ability is that it drops him to single-digit health after its effects wear out a few turns later (or when combat ends, the clever game designers). Since the consequences were so dire, Kyle and I didn’t really picture ourselves making much use of the ability.
With the Knight Emblem in hand, Biggs and Wedge helped Ceodore out of the cave, but Biggs lectured Ceodore, saying there is much more work to do to become a true member of the Red Wings. He also pointed out that, of course, the Knight Emblem was actually a Rat’s Tail, a FFI reference.
We all climbed back into our air ship, where we were attacked by a flight of monsters. This included the Belphegor gargoyle recolours we had last encountered in the Interlude: they were the gargoyles that gave us mild trouble en route to Fabul. In the distance, the party sighted smoke coming from Baron, and Biggs pushed the engines to their limit, ultimately crashing the airship in the middle of the Mysidian continent… which implies that we frankly hadn’t gotten very far at all, and probably shouldn’t have been able to see Baron on the horizon. In the crash, Biggs rescued Ceordore, since our hero had collapsed. But that will come another day: for now, it’s time to return to more familiar characters before you forget what game this is continuing.